Romancing The Alien: Reflections On Mork And Mindy

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Nothing will spice up a relationship quite like a hotdog built for two

I’m currently binge-watching Mork & Mindy. I’m doing this for no apparent practical purpose, as the show presently does not hold any immediate social currency and I cannot swap recap posts for $10 Starbucks gift cards.

Mork and Mindy ran for four seasons from 1978 to 1982, and, based on the amount of instant recognition of even the smallest details, I must have watched a scary amount of it as a child. I mean, re-watching the show has triggered off recall of Whitley Strieberesque proportions.

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The series is most famous for launching Robin Williams’ career, and Mork is literally the template for most characters he would play afterwards: lovable man-child, the wise fool, so-crazy-he’s-sane, devil-may-care iconoclast.

I mean, Williams had been so stuck in this role that it literally took him playing a creepy lonely scary guy forcing a couple to have sex on camera in order to shake that image…and yet even his darker later performances seem to make sense within the context of his overall career.

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Mork is too good to be true.

To back up: Mork is presented as the Perfect Late Seventies Guy. A highly-sensitive goofily handsome dude with some man-child overtones. There was Alan Alda, Elliot Gould, John Travolta, and Robin Williams (Jack Nicholson fit somewhere within all this too, but as kind of a Satanic take on the archetype).

But the character’s first appearances were a wee bit…problematic.

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In the pilot episode, he meets Mindy after she has almost been date-raped in her Jeep by Mr. Friendzone. She thinks Mork is a priest based on his outfit and lets him escort her back to her apartment; only once there, she discovers to her horror that he was really just wearing his suit backwards (hence the white collar).

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This sets up what will be a continual theme in the show: Mindy losing control of her life (and continually letting assorted maniacs into her apartment against her express will). I mean, really she has the horrified eye-popping of Ricky Ricardo beat.

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And so Mork reveals to Mindy that he’s an alien, and goes on to recount the last time he was on Earth—on the TV show Happy Days. He visits the Fonz and wishes to learn more about emotions and, apparently, fucking.

Fonz needs to find a woman who will make out with weirdo Mork, like, immediately—and so he calls Laverne (from, of course, Laverne and Shirley. It was quite the extended TV universe, and one can almost imagine John Munch lurking about 1950s Milwaukee as a rather surly boy).

Let me point out here one of the most depressing aspects of late 1970s television, at least for me: Laverne’s reputation as an easy, desperate lay who you can call on the phone at any time and get to take a bus across town to fuck a weird foreign kid sight-unseen. Shirley was the eternal virgin, and Laverne was the “slut.” The show should have been called “Slut and Virgin,” which I guess is the female form of “Laurel and Hardy.” But I di- gress.

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Laverne arrives and Fonz goes upstairs to leave her alone with Mork. Did I mention Fonz was house-sitting for the Cunninghams and has essentially set up their couch as a potential love-sponge?

Fonz, much like Mork, was presented as the perfect guy. In fact, this whole Happy Days sequence is sort of the passing-of-the-torch by one era’s perfect guy to another; the sensual machismo of the Seventies Guy giving way to the sexy quirk of the Eighties Dude.

Sure, there is a certain lack of personal responsibility that Fonz and Mork share. But if they are “the perfect guys” they are also made of magic and whimsy, as tangible as fairy-dust (or coke, take your pick) and as real as aliens from outer space.

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On the flip-side, there is a certain weary dreary verisimilitude about characters like Laverne and Mindy, some- thing that their comedy counterparts in the 1960s like Samantha and Jeannie never had to wrestle with. Laverne takes public transportation to a dubious date and Mindy has her own car hijacked by the dude who tried to force himself on her; meanwhile, Sam and Jeannie were making the World react to them, teleporting and riding on broomsticks. Something happened during that ensuing sexual revolution, and I for one want my money back (or at least the $10 Starbucks gift card).

Back to the show! Mork first weirds Laverne out with his alien ways, then pulls on her maternal heartstrings by crawling into a fetal position and crying his eyes out. Then Mork tries to date-rape Laverne.

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I am always a little hesitant to refer to such scenes—which were a staple of the TV and movies of my youth—as attempted rape. The majority of those scenes usually involve the story’s likable protagonist, as in the case of the Travolta back-to-back attempted-something-or-others in Saturday Night Fever and Grease. I seem to remember a scene like this involving Bert from Mary Poppins, and I’m sure everything was totes OK once you “got” the context.

So Laverne is kicked and chased by a sex-crazed Mork, and runs upstairs to Fonz because obviously that’s the safest place for her to be.

Freeze-frame on Mork’s boyish lust-filled animalistic smile, and then fade back to the present day with him and Mindy.

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After hearing this story, it is crystal-clear to Mindy what must be done: Mork should move in with her.

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Now, when Mindy’s dad hears about this he flips out—because, you know, he’s just an uptight dick who doesn’t want to see his daughter happy.

Dad—who has just learned that his daughter is shacking up with a jobless strange guy after only knowing him less than a day—sends a cop to check Mork out. The cop is so disturbed by Mork’s behavior that he takes him downtown to get a psych evaluation.

Mindy shames her dad for being such a cold-hearted bastard who is only trying to ruin her life, and the two race to the courthouse as Mork is on trial. Not to worry: Patch Adams Adrian Cronauer John Keating Mrs. Doubtfire Genie Mork proves to everyone that he is the sanest, kindest, wisest person in the entire room.

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Dad admits his terrible ignorance and gives his blessing for Mork to move in. Mork psychically contacts his leader Orson to tell him the good news, and to admit that Mindy makes him feel funny inside. And…end scene!

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Within a few episodes, Mork and Mindy will kiss (as well as re-enact the Laverne “Lustful Orkan” date-rape scene), though the actual status of their relationship is left rather fuzzy.

They act like a couple but have separate bedrooms. They seem rather intimate with each other, but when they are finally married and go to their honeymoon, it is revealed that they have not only never had sex with each other, but that Mork has no idea what Orkan/Human intercourse even looks like (and is initially horrified to find out)!

Mindy works, and Mork just…stays home and plays with food, or finds mentally-ill playmates to take back to the house, or buys funny costumes. Mindy is constantly correcting Mork’s behavior in public, but never fails to crack a smile when her companion starts spouting baby-talk. Even Mork’s height appears to fluctuate wildly from scene-to-scene, seemingly dependent on what “role” he is playing…either that of the romantic lead, or the lovable boy.

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And that seems to get at the heart of “Mork and Mindy,” and the essence of their relationship.

Mork is a child acting out his conception of what it means to be an adult. And Mindy, who has been hurt by men before (and apparently has an over-protective dad), seems to be OK with this arrangement.

We later find out that Orkans age in reverse—so Mork, much like the title character in the movie “Jack,” is really a boy in a man’s body.

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Of course, as the series progressed, Mork gradually became more and more of an adult; though as he did so, he also took on more of the traditionally female role…including occasionally wearing women’s clothes and getting pregnant. (This calls into question Orkan physiology, as he “laid an egg” to have the baby. Where did this egg come out of? Did he have a penis? I mean, Robin Williams in tight red spandex, I’m definitely seeing a penis…but I’m just asking.)

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C’mon…Mork’s iconic image is the egg. One could see that as representing his immaturity, but it’s pretty much the most female primal symbol you can get.

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Mork was “Safe.” Even if it seemed he was trying to “date-rape” you, he didn’t mean it—he’s just “a boy playing around,” pulling pigtails at the schoolyard (I’m not agreeing with this assessment mind you). Mork didn’t impregnate—he got impregnated. He couldn’t be accused of being unemotional and uncaring—he was afflicted with too many emotions and too much caring.

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He could be romantic and funny and heart-meltingly charming, but also didn’t know what sex was and probably couldn’t have it the way humans regularly have it anyway. Essentially, the ideal fanfic protagonist (I swing my imaginary golf club).

It’s possible that, far from lacking control over her life, Mindy knew exactly what she was doing when she got involved with Mork. She didn’t want a “regular guy,” like that jerk from the first episode. She wanted someone far more fluid, adaptable. Because as normal as Mindy appeared in that show next to Mork, the fact is: she had a longterm, uniquely intimate relationship with an alien from another planet, sometimes involving chicken costumes in an erotic setting.

The really interesting character on this show is Mindy, when you think about it.

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